As fire chief, I'm always concerned that the holiday months are busy for the Bakersfield Fire Department. Not that every season of the year isn't busy or challenging for the fire department, but because holiday emergencies can be especially difficult. The season can be heartbreakingly dangerous if folks don't take just an extra minute during the rush to consider the holiday-specific safety measures recommended here.
Christmas trees require very special attention. According to the National Fire Protection Association, Christmas tree fires account for an average of 240 residential fires each year. These fires cause on average 13 deaths, 27 injuries and $16.7 million in damage. The United States Fire Administration cites various studies that indicate residential fires are significantly more severe when Christmas trees are involved, and the instance of property damage, injury and fatality in these fires is higher than the national average.
The reason for this increased danger is due to the nature of trees in terms of fuel and configuration. Christmas trees are a vertical fuel, which supports rapid preheating, and have a branch/needle density that is infused with adequate oxygen for burning. A fire involving a Christmas tree is often described as being "explosive" due to the fact that an entire room may become involved in fire in less than 30 seconds.
When purchasing a live tree, check for a fresh one that is green, with needles that are hard to pull from the branches. The trunk cut of a fresh tree should be sticky with resin, and when tapped on the ground, the tree should lose few needles. Place your tree away from heat sources and escape routes. Remember to water the tree daily, don't put it up too early or leave it up longer than two weeks, and safely dispose it before it becomes dangerously dry.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, holiday and decorative lights are the cause on average of 150 structure fires, eight deaths, 14 injuries and $8.5 million in property damage each year. Purchase only UL-approved lights, check all indoor and outdoor lights for frayed cords, and replace old lights as necessary. Before using lights outdoors, check the label to be sure the lights have been certified for outdoor use. Turn off all Christmas lights before leaving your home or going to bed.
In homes with small children, take special care to avoid decorations that are sharp or breakable, and keep trimmings with small removable parts out of the reach of children to avoid choking on small pieces. Avoid trimmings that resemble candy or food.
Although Thanksgiving is over, more families are deep-frying turkeys for the Christmas and New Year holidays than ever. Across the nation, there are numerous burn injuries and structure fires associated with turkey frying, and there have been several reports of minor damage and close calls locally this year.
The fact is that deep-frying is inherently more dangerous than other turkey cooking methods, and can result in serious injuries and property damage when care is not taken. To reduce the likelihood of accidents, follow these safety rules when deep-frying a turkey:
Turkey fryers should always be used outdoors away from structures.
Never use fryers under patio covers, on wooden decks or in garages.
Use fryers on flat surfaces to reduce the possibility of accidental tipping.
Never leave the fryer unattended.
Keep children and pets away from the fryer at all times.
Do not overfill the fryer -- this may result in a "spill-over" of hot oil.
Safety goggles and potholders or oven mitts should be worn.
The turkey must be completely thawed to avoid oil splattering and "boil-over."
Choose a smaller (10 to 12 pounds) turkey to fry to reduce the potential of overflow.
Never use water to extinguish a grease fire -- use an all-purpose extinguisher.
The hazards of turkey frying are multi-dimensional, with combustible liquid fires, propane fires, severe contact-burns and other fire-related problems all being significant possibilities if the appropriate caution is not used. If a fire does occur, don't hesitate to call 911 immediately to get firefighters on scene as soon as possible to deal with the problem.
I encourage everyone to please take a little extra precaution during the holidays, because what you don't want on the night before Christmas is to hear the boots of city firefighters up on the roof. On behalf of the men and women of the Bakersfield Fire Department, I wish everyone a happy and safe 2012 holiday season!
-- Doug Greener is chief of the Bakersfield Fire Department. These are his opinions, not necessarily those of The Californian.